Queen Bee: Carolyn Kizer (1923-2014) and her Cultural Orbit

2017 until 2025
Project member(s)
Dr M.L.M. Janssen (Marian)
Project type

Project description

Triggered by a letter by Carolyn Kizer’s daughter Ashley Bullitt Not At All What One Is Used To: The Life and Times of Isabella Gardner, I resigned from my job as director of Radboud University’s International Office to become Kizer’s unauthorized biographer.

"I wish my goddamned life would quit trying to resemble a rather large, lousy novel," Kizer (1923-2014) wrote poet Hayden Carruth in 1962, after having been cut up for cancer, having lost a baby, and a violent French lover. Kizer, a feminist poet preoccupied with her own beauty who could not live without men, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1985. She married one of the wealthy Bullitts of Seattle and had lovers ranging from Carruth and James Dickey to President Johnson's fixer, Abe Fortas, as well as his VP, Humbert Humphrey. Blonde and beautiful, Kizer was every male writer’s muse and wet dream all rolled into one. But what was in it for Kizer herself?

Kizer was born in 1923 in Spokane, Washington.  From her first collection, The Ungrateful Garden (1961), to her last, Cool, Calm, and Collected: Poems 1960-2000 (2001), Kizer’s poetry has been praised for its formality, intellectuality, and engagement with politics and feminism. She co-founded the influential journal Poetry Northwest in 1959 and was its editor till 1966. She resigned to become the first Literature Director at the NEA, starting programs for strapped literary journals, needy writers, and inner-city schools. She wrote about significant changes in American cultural and political life, from the Cold War to the War in Vietnam, from feminism to xenophobia. She put her money where her mouth was and resigned in 1998 from the venerable Board of the Academy of American Poets to protest the absence of blacks and other minority groups from the Academy's Board of Chancellors.

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